Last weekend, one of the leaders of the campus of the church that I attend stood in front of everyone and apologized on behalf of the leadership for dropping the justice agenda that we had originally prioritized. The campus was started with a focus on diversity and reaching an urban population and while it has continued to do that, the justice agenda hasn’t been front and center. I sincerely appreciate this leader coming forward and saying that we need to refocus and re-prioritize our efforts on being a bridge, working towards justice. It’s an effort to advocate for righteousness and confront error.
Righteousness is defined as the quality of being morally correct and justifiable. It’s also about action. James refers back to Abraham as having righteousness (James 2:23). It’s because Abraham DID something about his faith that he was righteous. He didn’t just SAY something. He DID something.
As a church campus, we are doing something. We are confronting our own error and error in a society where righteousness is not a priority.
Over the past year I’ve become much more courageous in advocating for righteousness and confronting error. Even when it’s in an organization where I am wholly devoted…..even when it’s hard….even when it means that I confront someone I love. A lot of that courage has come from becoming acutely aware that I was born into privilege. And, that God has uniquely placed me to be a bridge between those with power, who don’t have a lens into the lives of the marginalized, and those who are marginalized, because I do life with them and am gifted a lens into their lives.
As my wise friend Theo Schaffer said in his TedTalk, “the moment you become aware of something, is the moment you become immediately responsible.” God has made me aware of so many things the past couple of years. And, a lot of that awareness has been about the inequity of our public schools in Charlotte.
I am a proud Charlotte Mecklenburg School graduate. [Go Rams!] I spent all but one of my primary and secondary school years in CMS. I attribute a lot of my personal success to the learnings (academic and social) that I gained while I was a CMS student.
And yet, while I gained SO much out of CMS and am so grateful for it, many CMS students are not afforded the same opportunities. Systemic policies and barriers exist within CMS that prevent upward mobility.
As I’ve done life with many families who don’t have access to transportation, computers, internet, etc., my eyes have been opened to those policies and barriers.
Over the last two years, I’ve had the honor of helping several moms get their kids get registered for PreK and Kindergarten. It’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve experienced. I mean y’all….my heart melts as these kiddos go to school and then I get to hear all about their first day [and then second day, and third day….].
I have friends who think that just because education services like Pre-K exist that they are immediately accessible to the families who need them.
Let me break that fallacy: Nope, not so.
First, the parent has to be interested in sending their child to Pre-K. Many of these parents did not attend Pre-K themselves and do not understand the benefits to Pre-K. Second, you have to apply online [and have a computer, tablet or phone with internet access] or in person and there has to be space available. Third, you then have to meet in person to complete the enrollment process and physically go to the Smith Family Center on Tyvola Road. [In all of the situations where I have helped a family register for Pre-K, we’ve had to go over to Smith MULTIPLE times for various reasons.]
All of these steps are very achievable. Obviously. Many kiddos are registered and in Pre-K. But, it’s not an easy process when you don’t have a computer, access to the internet or a car.
In Charlotte, the average bus ride is 90 minutes. Average. Think about that. To and from the Smith Family Center is an average of three hours…. on the bus. Now, add in the stress and burden of traveling with children in tow on the bus. That’s not even counting the time spent at Smith, again with your children in tow. [I mean y’all, these kids stress me out when they are in my car, buckled and in car seats….I can’t even imagine having them on a city bus.]
Registering a child for Pre-K is an all day affair. During the week. When the parent could be at work.
Ok, so now to uniforms. I actually love the idea of uniforms. I think it makes choosing clothing so much easier in the mornings. But uniforms are not systematically applied across all CMS schools. Not all schools require them. My experience has been that the more affluent CMS schools do not require uniforms and the poorer, Title I schools do require uniforms. I’m sure that’s not 100%, but it has made me think about the policy of uniforms and how it is applied.
Uniform use is not actually my beef with CMS. It’s the punishing of children for not having a uniform or wearing a dirty uniform by taking them out of the classroom where they are supposed to be learning where I have beef.
One afternoon last year, I visited a CMS Title I school to eat lunch with a kid. But, he wasn’t in the cafeteria when his class came in. So, I asked where he was and told that he was in ISS (in-school-suspension). After lunch, I popped into the ISS room so that the kid would know I was there. He is a kid that gets into trouble kinda frequently, so I wasn’t surprised to see him in ISS. BUT, I was surprised when I found out WHY he was in ISS.
I was told by the kid and the ISS teacher that he was in ISS because his uniform shirt was dirty. Y’all, seriously? Are you freaking kidding me!!!????!!!
Maybe there was more to the story that wasn’t shared with me, but since that happened, I’ve asked a few other kids what happens at school if they are missing part of their uniform or their uniform is dirty and they shared stories that validate the school practice of sending a child to ISS if a uniform component is dirty or missing.
Removing a child from his/her learning environment because of their uniform is straight up ridiculous. This child was eight. I understand the desire of wanting to teach children (and their families) responsibility, but since when is laundry the responsibility of a eight year old?! Who by the way was HOMELESS at the time of that ISS. The fact that he made it to school is a miracle and I’m so proud of his momma for getting him there. She busted her tush to get him to school and then he gets sent to ISS?!
Let me just say I nearly lost it. I didn’t address this with the school administration because I knew that if I did, I would totally lose my cool. One thing I know I need to work on is confronting error in a more loving way. I do not shy away from conflict, or speaking truth. I’m completely comfortable with conflict and tension. I’ve learned that the benefits of confronting things far outweighs the southern practice of passive aggression. But when you speak truth and confront error, it must be in/with LOVE.
So now on to middle school sports. Last year one of my kids wanted to play soccer. She had NEVER played on a team before. But, she couldn’t even try out for the team because she didn’t have a 2.0 GPA and it’s CMS policy that you have to have and maintain a minimum 2.0. I get the reason for having a grade point average threshold….in high school. It’s much more competitive. But y’all, this is middle school. A time in a child’s life when we should be giving them every opportunity to learn drive and how things pay off when you put in the investment. When I escalated this to CMS Athletics Administration, I was referred back to the CMS school sports policy. Umm, yeah. I read the freaking policy. And I don’t agree with it, which is why I’m emailing you. Instead of providing opportunities for our kids, you are being a barrier to them learning important skills in life. If the policy is so important at the middle school level, why not let there be an “exception to policy” allowance and direct the decision down to the local Athletic Director. In this particular case, the local AD said that if the decision had been up to him that he would have allowed her to play because the benefits would be so great.
In the middle of a focus on upward mobility, I’m very disappointed that CMS has not done a fully internal analysis of its very own policies that are a barrier to upward mobility. And, then done something about those barriers.
Recently I took a Spiritual Pathways assessment that gives you an idea of how best you connect with God. Well, let me tell you where I have a perfect score when it comes to connecting with God: advocacy. I will continue to advocate for righteousness and confront error. But, let me bring a little bit more LOVE in with the TRUTH.